Watch out Australia, the circus is coming to town. This week's big foodie news - that Melbourne will host the World's 50 Best Restaurant Awards in 2017 – has our restaurateurs and tourism operators high-fiving in glee.
In food circles, it's known simply as "the list". Sometimes off-beam but always influential, the World's 50 Best is an annual poll held among industry insiders and international critics that ranks the global culinary establishments of the world.
Whether you agree with the mechanics of the judging or not, the announcement of the list is a star-studded global event that comes with a huge media juggernaut; its citizens braying for close contact with the (mostly male) professional chefs who should by rights be back in their kitchens, cooking. But let's not be churlish.
As a snapshot of the top dining experiences in the world, the 50 Best become an instant bucket list for food-lovers everywhere – which is precisely why Tourism Australia stepped up to invite them to town.
"It's like the Olympic Games of food" says Tourism Australia managing director John O'Sullivan. "For us, it's about bringing the words most influential food and wine creatives – chefs, restaurateurs, and media, to Australia. The awards are just the anchor point. We will have what we believe to be 190 media outlets from 40 different countries here, giving us an excellent opportunity to showcase the food and wine scene in Australia."
But why Australia? Why not Hong Kong, Berlin, Tokyo, Paris? "I know the organisers are looking to make the awards truly global, so it makes sense to make it a road show, like major sporting events," says leading chef Neil Perry, whose restaurant Rockpool numbered number 4 in the inaugural 2002 list. Perry is typically gung-ho about the news. "We're going to put on the best show ever," he says.
And will the world's greatest chefs hack the long-haul flights and extended kitchen absences required? For O'Sullivan, no-shows are not an option. "We know from our work with Restaurant Australia (a significant media event held in 2014 generating 1500 media articles that reached 1 billion people) that the destination itself is a huge drawcard and one the world's chefs are very interested in," he says.
As the only Australian restaurant in last year's top 50 list, Ben Shewry of Melbourne's Attica is hopeful that other Australian restaurants will gain recognition, but warns it won't happen overnight. "I think the impact may not be felt for several years" he says. "But speaking as a chef, having 50 of the best chefs in the world here will help inspire our next generation of young cooks to push even harder."
The tyranny of distance has meant Australian restaurants are rarer than 2kg truffles on the World's 50 Best, but with the world coming to dinner next year, our restaurants will at last play on a level dining table. worlds50best.com